Last month, we began to explore the degree of dispossession that Jesus expected of the rich ruler if he was to inherit eternal life. This is of interest to us, as I have shown that Jesus’ words to the rich ruler have undeniable application to every one of us, rather than uniquely to him, as is often thought.
This e-teaching is another follow-up to April’s e-teaching titled, Five Modern Myths about Jesus’ Conversation with the Rich Young Ruler. I would strongly encourage you not to read this e-teaching unless you’ve first read that one, otherwise you will likely be confused. In that e-teaching, I presented compelling biblical evidence that Jesus’ words to the rich ruler have application to all of us, contrary to what so many professing Christians think. I made a very strong case, and I wish that I could persuade every professing Christian in the world to read that e-teaching and the two that followed (The True Grace of God and All Christians Believe “Works” are Essential for Salvation), because neglecting the poor, according to Jesus, is a barricade to eternal life. If you are shocked by that statement, then I beg you to read Five Modern Myths about Jesus’ Conversation with the Rich Young Ruler.
This month I’d like to continue answering questions I received in response to my e-teaching from two months ago titled, Five Modern Myths About Jesus’ Conversation with the Rich Young Ruler.
Last month I answered the question, “How can we reconcile what Jesus required of the rich young ruler if he was to inherit eternal life with what the Bible teaches about salvation by grace and not works?” If you have not yet read that e-teaching titled, The True Grace of God, please do. You must understand that God’s grace is not unconditional, as is so commonly thought, but rather, conditional, in order to grasp what follows below.
I’ve often wondered what would happen if professing Christians would believe the plain and simple truths that are revealed in Jesus’ conversation with the rich young ruler. So in this eTeaching, I’d like to take an honest look at a story that God felt was significant enough to include in three of the four Gospels. Doing so exposes at least five widely-held (and spiritually-deadly) modern myths about the story. If you believe any one of those five myths, reading this short teaching could well be, without exaggeration, the most important thing you ever do. You be the judge of the truthfulness of my bold claim!
Although Jesus commanded it and the early Christians did it, I’d be willing to bet that you’ve never heard a single sermon on it. I’m speaking of self-dispossession. To self-dispossess is to divest yourself of something that you own.
Most Christians know that Jesus told the rich young ruler to sell his possessions and give the proceeds to charity, but those same Christians are often quick to say that was a special incident. Jesus only ever told one man to sell his possessions, they claim. The truth, however, is that Jesus commanded all of His followers to sell their possessions and give to charity:
And He said to His disciples…. “Sell your possessions and give to charity; make yourselves money belts which do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near nor moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Luke 12:22, 33-34).
Take note that Jesus’ intention was not to impoverish His followers through their self-dispossession. His intention was to enrich them—forever. He really wasn’t advocating self-dispossession, but rather, wise relocation of wealth, from earth to heaven. He advocated the same for the rich young ruler. Jesus wanted to save him from the inevitable loss of all his wealth. He wanted him to transfer it to heaven where it would be safe forever.
Jesus wants to save rich people like you and me from the same folly. Remember, “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”
The Right Stuff
If someone who is not wealthy (on earth) desires to be wealthy, generally three things are necessary for him to reach his goal: sacrifice, diligence and saving. The same is true for those who want to be forever rich. Sacrifice, diligence and saving (in heaven) are required.
It is also often true that those who desire to become rich on earth practice some form of self-dispossession in order to reach their goal. Perhaps they sell assets in order to have sufficient capital to start a business or make an investment, effectively transferring wealth from one form to another, risking money in hopes of gaining more. Or perhaps they borrow—which is a dispossession of some of their future income and another form of transferring wealth from one form to another—with the hope of gaining more.
In the same way, the one who desires to become forever rich must also transfer wealth from one form to another. Yet he takes no risk whatsoever. His investment cannot fail because God guarantees it. He only needs to be content as he waits for the day to enjoy it. But like anyone who hopes to become rich on earth, he must practice the principle of “delayed gratification.” That is, he gives up present enjoyment to gain future enjoyment, which is the opposite of “instant gratification.” Storing up heavenly treasure is all about delayed gratification.
There is a video on YouTube that wonderfully illustrates the struggles of delayed gratification. (You can see it for yourself by searching on YouTube for “the marshmallow test.”) Young children are seated alone in a room, and a marshmallow is placed on a table in front of them. The children are told that they can eat the marshmallow immediately if they desire. However, if they would like to eat not one, but two marshmallows, they must wait to be brought a second marshmallow without eating the first one. It is very easy to identify with the children in the video as they wait for their benefactor to return while they stare at the single marshmallow before them, touching and smelling it, and sometimes taking tiny nibbles. They each do their best to delay their gratification. One blond-haired little girl takes so many tiny nibbles as she waits that her marshmallow shrinks to half its original size.
If Jesus expected His earliest followers—the large majority of whom were quite poor compared to most of us—to delay their gratification and divest themselves of their possessions in order to lay up heavenly treasures, it would seem reasonable to think that He expects no less from us. In fact, because “to whom much is given much is required,” it would seem reasonable to think that He would expect more from us.
That being so, we should all ask ourselves, “How have I obeyed Jesus’ commandment concerning self-dispossession? What have I sold, using the proceeds to lay up heavenly treasure?”
Self-Deceptions that Prevent Self-Dispossession
Unfortunately, too many professing Christians are fooling themselves with their answers to those questions. Some will claim that they’ve fulfilled Jesus’ commandment through “inward relinquishment.” That is, they’ve given all their possessions to Christ “in their hearts” while giving up nothing in reality. So all that they now own supposedly belongs to Jesus—even though it is just as much in their possession as it was before they “gave it all to Jesus.”
This kind of self-deception is rooted in the idea that God is mostly concerned with heart attitudes rather than outward actions—as if the two are unrelated. It is often expressed in common sayings, such as, “God looks only at our hearts, not at what we possess.”
This line of reasoning stands in direct opposition to what Jesus taught. Remember, when He told His followers not to lay up treasures on earth but in heaven, He concluded with the words, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Luke 12:34). That is, where we put our treasures, either in heaven or on earth, reveals where our hearts are. Our actions reveal what is in our hearts. So it is simply not true that God looks only at our hearts and not at what we possess. Rather, when He looks at what we possess, He knows what is in our hearts. We may fool ourselves, but we can’t fool Him.
Such is the case of the person who has “internally relinquished” all of his possessions to Jesus. It would be interesting to see what would happen if I used that method of relinquishment when paying my taxes. When an IRS agent comes knocking at my door, I’ll just tell him, “I’ve internally paid my taxes, and in my heart I’ve given you all that I owe you.” I suspect that IRS agent would quickly conclude that my failure to actually pay my taxes is a sure indication that in my heart I don’t want to pay my taxes. God is no dummy either!
Simple and honest logic alone should be enough to convince us that it is our actions that reveal what is truly in our hearts. What would we think of the person who, as he stabs a knife into his victim’s back, says, “I really don’t hate this person whom I’m stabbing…inwardly, I’m full of love”? Or how about a person whose house is stacked to the ceiling with pornographic magazines and who says, “These magazines mean nothing to me…inwardly, I’m pure”? Or how about a drunk person who says with a slur, “Inwardly, I’m sober”? Surely in every case we would consider these people to be sadly self-deceived. Their actions reveal their hearts while their words reveal their self-deception. Then why do we fool ourselves about our possessions and say, “All of these possessions mean nothing to me…they all belong to Jesus”? If they mean nothing, why are we clinging to them? Why are we ignoring what Jesus said regarding them?
Here is another common Christian cliché that reveals a self-deception regarding the connection between actions and heart attitudes: “It doesn’t matter what you possess as long as you hold it loosely.” That is doublespeak, a declaration that it is OK to be unwilling to give as long as you are willing to give. An unwilling willingness! The one who is holding something loosely is still holding it. His treasure is still on the earth. His actions reveal his heart.
Here’s yet another statement that reveals the same self-deception: “If the Lord told me to give away any of my possessions, I would do it in a second.” Such a person imagines that his heart is right and that he is willing to relinquish anything that the Lord would require of him. Yet, as we just read in Luke 12:33-34, Jesus has commanded all of His disciples to sell their possessions, give to charity and lay up treasure in heaven. So the person who imagines he is willing to give up his possessions proves that he is actually unwilling by his ignoring Christ’s clear commandment. It could be said that he is doubly deceived, as he imagines that what Christ required of all of His disciples is not required of him, and he imagines that if it ever is required, he will surely obey.
One final indication of the same kind of self-deception is the alteration of Jesus’ commandment from, “Do not lay up treasures on earth” to, “Do not treasure your earthly possessions.” That is, of course, a serious perversion of what Jesus said and meant. Adjusting only our attitudes about our possessions will not prevent thieves from stealing them or rust from consuming them. Only by actually selling our possessions and laying them up in heaven do we prevent their inevitable demise.
Let us not be deceived!
When you first begin to consider self-dispossession, you may well discover, as I did, inward resistance to the whole idea. That is a depressing yet glorious moment, because you then begin to realize how much all your stuff means to you…and how much of your heart is on the earth with all your treasures. At that moment of self-realization, a war begins. It can be misery at first, but with each step of obedience, your joy increases as you prove your love for Jesus.
Many begin by selling only the possessions that they never use or enjoy, as those are the easiest to let go. We advertise a garage sale and unload all the junk in our attics and garages and then give the money to some worthy cause. That is a start, of course. The Holy Spirit, however, who indwells all true believers to help them be holy, will help you to think about ways to lay up even more treasure in heaven.
For example, the Spirit might help you to see, as He did me, that you could sell your house and use the equity to purchase a smaller house without debt (or less debt), which could enable you to lay up tens of thousands of dollars in heaven in the years ahead.
He might help you realize that you could stop buying a new car every year and buy one every eight years—or never buy another new car and always buy a used one—again enabling you to lay up tens of thousands of dollars in heaven during the rest of your life.
He might help you to unload those luxuries that serve no other purpose than to impress other people, swell your ego, or indulge your flesh. Diamonds, for example, are in this category (but don’t expect to sell them for anywhere close to what you paid for them…a good lesson in lousy earthly investments).
Here’s another possibility: The Spirit might help you to make a decision to delay your retirement (or never retire), thus eliminating the need for storing up so much earthly treasure in retirement savings, enabling the storing up of hundreds of thousands of dollars in heaven, waiting for your eternal retirement.
Please note that I’ve written in the preceding paragraphs about what the Holy Spirit might lead you to do, because everyone’s circumstances are different. God may be leading you not to scale down to a smaller house, but to purchase a larger one—if it is for some kingdom purpose such as adopting orphans from another country, raising a big tribe of radical disciples, or facilitating church gatherings. One who does that is just as effectively “giving up his house for Christ” as the one who sells his large home, buys a smaller one, and gives the remaining equity to the poor. The important thing is to look at our homes, as well as every other material possession, in the light of God’s eternal kingdom and use it accordingly.
Here is yet another consideration regarding what is the average person’s most valuable possession: Sharing your home in some fashion can be a great means to lay up more treasure in heaven, either by freely giving room to a needy person or by renting part of your home to a not-so-needy person and giving the rental income to charity.
Jesus, of course, didn’t lay down any specific commandments meant to regulate our possessions. For example, He never decreed the maximum allowable square footage of our homes or sticker prices of our cars. So we should be careful that we don’t pass judgment on others in this regard. I know a few Christians—who are serious stewards of God’s money—who need to drive fairly nice cars if they hope to do business with their upscale clientele. It is that business which makes it possible for those believers to meet many pressing needs of our spiritual family around the world each year—and lay up tons of treasure in heaven in the process.
To what degree should you scale down in Disneyland? I don’t know the answer to that question. However, I am sure that, in heaven, none of us will regret any sacrifice that we made on earth for God’s kingdom. There, having been fully dispossessed of every earthly treasure by death, we’ll wish we had made greater sacrifices. We’ll fully realize that we were foolish to not give up what we couldn’t keep in order to gain what we could never lose. Thus, how wise it would be in this life for us to pray Moses’ prayer: “Teach us to number our days, that we may present to You a heart of wisdom” (Psa. 90:12). — David
You are going to love this story. Jesus told it using just one sentence, but with a little imagination, it can easily be expanded without doing any harm to the lesson.
A man is walking across a neighbor’s field early one morning when something poking through the soil—perhaps exposed from last night’s rain shower—catches his attention. He stops. With the aid of his staff, he digs around it to uncover an old, metal chest. Wrenching the lid open, he discovers thousands of gold coins. It’s a treasure buried long ago, perhaps by a prince or king who was fleeing from a foreign army.
After publishing my February e-teaching, entitled Government Theft, I was cautioned by some readers to avoid wading into political issues. Yet quite a few others encouraged me with their feedback, reminding me that most of the pressing political issues of our day are fundamental moral issues. To avoid speaking about such issues purely because they are political is to avoid speaking about moral issues that matter greatly to God. And if moral issues matter to God they should also matter to those who pray every day, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Moreover, if those moral issues do truly matter to those who profess to be God’s people, they will act like it. If they have any power to do something that might help God’s will to be done on earth, they will do it.
I did my best in my February e-teaching to establish the fundamental evil of theft as it is clearly revealed in Scripture. No thieves will inherit eternal life, so genuine Christians do not steal, nor do they collaborate with thieves. For that reason, we cannot vote for political candidates (regardless of their political party) who are in favor of accumulating a national debt so immense that it will inevitably be passed on to our children and grandchildren, which amounts to stealing the future earnings of our own offspring. This is a fundamental moral issue. Politicians who ignore it are simply not worthy to hold office, and it is the responsibility of the electorate to vote such politicians out of office lest we share culpability for their sin. Let me say it more boldly: If we vote to put thieves in office or vote to keep them in office—thieves who would steal the future earnings of our children and grandchildren—we cast a vote for theft, endorsing and promoting what God hates and thus, by our actions, deny that we know Him.
When a new year begins, it seems like a natural time to make evaluations about the past year and plan changes for the new one, which many people do. Followers of Christ, of course, are evaluating their lives much more frequently than once every twelve months. Still, there is something special about the start of a new year. So as 2010 begins, I would like to suggest that we reflect on getting “back to the basics.” I’m speaking, in fact, of the most basic of the basics. If we focus on that one thing, our spiritual lives become much less complicated, and everything else falls into place. That most basic thing is, of course, loving God.
Below are seven short thoughts to prayerfully ponder about loving God. I recommend taking them slowly, one at a time, with some pause for reflection. Or better, focus on just one each day for the next seven days during your daily prayer time.
When I began thinking about Jesus’ command to “lend, expecting nothing in return,” I initially thought He meant, “Lend, and don’t charge any interest on your loans,” as I remembered the Mosaic Law forbade the people of Israel to charge interest on loans made to their poor countrymen (see Ex. 22:25). But as I read Jesus’ commandment within its context, I realized that He meant that His followers should lend without expecting to receive back either interest or principal:
If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners in order to receive back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men (Luke 6:33-35; emphasis added).
It’s Friday after prayers in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and worshippers are streaming from Al-Jafali Mosque to surround an area in the adjacent square that has been cordoned off by police. In the center of that square kneels a man with hands tied behind his back, flanked by an imam, a prison warden, and an executioner grasping a four-foot sword. The condemned man faces the victim’s family some yards away, from whom he begs forgiveness. Behind him, on the other side of the square, the prisoner’s family is weeping, also begging the victim’s family to forgive.
A government official reads the charges and then the verdict, while the kneeling man closes his eyes and begins to recite verses from the Qur’an. The executioner lifts his gleaming sword. The faint look away.